You may remember Tina Peters, the clerk in conservative Mesa County, Colorado, who’s now under investigation for allegedly helping facilitate the leak of sensitive election software information to a QAnon influencer.
The situation, news of which broke as Peters and Mike Lindell took the stage at his flop “Cyber Symposium” on Aug. 10, has only gotten more richly bizarre since then.
As connoisseurs of the absurd, TPM provides the following update.
She tried to prove an election crime, but may have committed one with the help of an infamous QAnon grifter.
First, some background: Peters, until now the top elections official in Mesa County, has acknowledged taking digital images of her election machines’ hard drives both before and after a May 25 software update, known as a “trusted build.” While the machines were being updated, state officials and employees of the voting machine manufacturer, Dominion, would be present.
“I was suspicious that something was happening to that information, and decided to make an image before they came in,” Peters told Mike Lindell in an interview this week.
But, according to the secretary of state’s office, she wasn’t alone: An “unauthorized individual,” Gerald Wood, was also there. Someone had also turned off the video surveillance system in the county clerk’s office. During the trusted build itself, someone in the room took surreptitious video and pictures.
Things ramped up a few days prior to Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium,” earlier this month. Ron Watkins, an infamous QAnon influencer, published footage from the trusted build on his Telegram account. MAGA conspiracy theorists seized on Watkins’ post; Gateway Pundit called it a “bombshell.”
But Watkins screwed up, revealing data that was specific to Mesa County and, thus, revealing the potential source of the leak. The Colorado secretary of state’s office began investigating. As Lindell’s symposium kicked off with Peters present, investigators with the secretary of state’s office served a search warrant on her Mesa County office.
No, the leaked data doesn’t show anything nefarious.
It was in this context that Peters spoke to the crowd at the symposium: Under the cloud of an investigation. And yet, for all that trouble, the leak from Mesa County was… unimpressive.
Rob Graham, a cybersecurity expert who was in attendance at the event, told TPM that there simply wasn’t a basis in the now-publicly-available-data from Mesa County for the claims that conspiracy theorists were making about wrongdoing.
No, the data did not show voting machines communicating with foreign countries. There’s no evidence that adjudication and communication logs were deleted. In other words, lots of lofty claims without anything to show for them, Graham said.
“It’s all baseless claims, there’s no substantiation to any of this,” Graham said. “If you’ve got ‘substantiated’ things, then substantiate it!”
A patchwork of law enforcement descends on Mesa County
The FBI has been working on the case with the Mesa County district attorney for more than a week now, and Peters seems to be feeling the heat.
In an interview with Lindell Wednesday, she said she’d heard about current and former employees being interviewed by the DA’s office.
“You know, when people leave for whatever reason — if they’re looking for something, they’re going to find something,” she added.
State officials are also involved: Griswold has ordered that the county’s election equipment be replaced, and she’s removed Peters from her role as the elections administrator in Mesa County. And the state attorney general’s office is “working with the Mesa County DA in the election system breach investigation.”
CISA, the federal cybersecurity agency, has also weighed in.
“CISA has worked with election officials to protect their systems with a starting assumption that vulnerabilities are known to malicious actors,” Geoff Hale, director of CISA’s Election Security Initiative, told TPM in a statement. “The published disk images confirm the risk that malicious actors have access to and may attempt to exploit vulnerabilities.”
And Peters is… in ‘hiding.’
Much to the chagrin of Mesa County’s three Republican commissioners, Peters doesn’t seem to have returned home after the symposium.
At a meeting Tuesday, Republican County Commissioner Scott McInnis said that Peters had contacted the commission “through a third person” two days prior, though her message was mostly “biblical terms.”
“Call Tina, tell her to come out of hiding,” McInnis told Peters supporters at the meeting. “Tell her to come home.”
Instead, as Lindell told Vice News last week, he’d taken Peters to Texas. Then, after Peters’ location leaked, Lindell took her somewhere else in the state. In her first appearance following the symposium, in a web interview with Lindell on Aug. 20, Peters showed a picture of the lock on her hotel room door, claiming the room had been broken into while she’d stepped away briefly.
“Well, I guess we’re going to have to get you moved again,” Lindell responded.
It’s not clear where Peters is now, but there’s a chance she’s traveling in style: As the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported, it appears that she and others took Lindell’s private jet to the symposium in the first place, alongside Rep. Lauren Boeboert’s (R) former campaign manager who ultimately shared the stage with Peters, Sherronna Bishop.
A former pro surfer is now also part of this messy picture.
Perhaps the oddest twist in this whole saga is the presence of the cofounder of the famous surfing brand RVCA.
Conan Hayes, the former professional surfer, has become fully immersed in the battle to prove the last election was stolen, as the Twitter user @get_innocuous first noted months ago and the Daily Beast subsequently explored with a profile. Now, there appear to be digital breadcrumbs tying him to the Mesa County mess.
Someone who’s taking a look at the Mesa EMS images posted online let me know that they have metadata with the examiner name listed as ‘cjh’ – aka, Conan James Hayes.
The images were captured with EnCase, and the examiner name cannot be changed after the evidence file is created pic.twitter.com/6xMqsVWiGQ
— TRAPEZOID OF DISCOVERY (@get_innocuous) August 12, 2021
And in the middle of a lengthy discussion on what the disk images showed, Watkins called Hayes out by name.
“We have a problem here!” he announced, before saying he’d been advised by his lawyer to stop the analysis because Hayes, heretofore unknown to the audience, may have taken “the actual hard drives” from Mesa County, without authorization.
Tina Peters leaped to the stage, denying that any county property had left her office — and seemingly setting off a recording of a duck quacking — a sound that played several times throughout the bizarre convention and which some have interpreted as a signal from the event’s organizers that she ought to, legally, zip up.
Then, another confusing statement: Watkins said that his attorney had heard from Bishop that Hayes “did have permission to take the hard drive, but did not have permission to upload it.”
Ron's 2nd statement ? pic.twitter.com/m4oS42ynPy
— TRAPEZOID OF DISCOVERY (@get_innocuous) August 11, 2021
On the phone with TPM Friday, Watkins’ Lawyer Ty Clevenger said Bishop, the former Boebert campaign manager, “was all worried that Tina Peters was going to get in trouble.”
His client hadn’t told him everything about the source of the Mesa County leaks, Clevenger said, but the bottom line was clear.
“Whoever gave the information to Ron,” he said, “pointed to Tina Peters as the ultimate source of the information.”
Correction: This story initially misnamed the newspaper in Grand Junction. It is the Daily Sentinel, not the Journal Sentinel.